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ABC57 one-on-one with Democratic contender Bernie Sanders

ABC57's Taylor Popielarz traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan Saturday morning for a one-on-one interview with Bernie Sanders, one of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Below is a full transcript of their conversation. You can watch both the raw, unedited interview and a condensed, edited version above.

Taylor's first question to Senator Sanders was how important is a victory here in Michigan on Tuesday?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: It’s very important. Michigan is one of the states in the country with the largest number of delegates. We look forward to winning here. We’re working very hard to do that. And I think we will win here because the differences that Secretary Clinton and I have on some major issues are fairly significant, and that is, I have opposed virtually all of these disastrous trade policies – NAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China, which have cost this country and Michigan huge numbers of jobs. Secretary Clinton has supported those trade agreements, so I think that’s a difference that the people of Michigan will increasingly appreciate.

Taylor Popielarz: And then staying in Michigan, obviously the Flint water crisis has become a national tragedy, everyone’s talking about it, but some research has shown that Flint is not the only city in America that’s dealing with these problems [Bernie: That’s right]. And I’m sure you read, Nicholas Kristof wrote in February the CDC estimates over 535,000 children between the ages of 1 and 5 are impacted by lead poisoning throughout this country. So as president, what will you do to not only shrink that number, but also help these struggling cities combat…

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Well thank you very much. That’s an excellent question. This is the United States of America. This is the year 2016. We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world. The problem is that we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality and almost all the new income and wealth is going to the top one percent, and therefore you have cities like Detroit, Flint and many, many other communities, as you indicate, all over this country, that are struggling with inadequate funding. So, what I do believe is that we need a massive federal program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. We used to have the best infrastructure in the world. That is no longer the case. It is not just water systems, it is schools, it is roads, it is bridges. In my state of Vermont, many of our bridges are in need of significant repair. We can put 13 million people back to work, at good paying jobs, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. That is exactly what I intend to do.

Taylor Popielarz: And will you urge Congress to restore the funding of anti-lead programs that were cut in 2012?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Of course. I mean, you know, of course. If that’s not a no-brainer, I don’t know what is a no-brainer. The idea, and I met with a number of people in Flint quietly, and in a private setting. What I heard was so distressing, so horrific, that I could not believe that I was living, hearing this in the United States of America in the year 2016. I don’t think it takes much discussion to come to the conclusion that we should not be poisoning children in the United States of America, that people are entitled to clean water.

Taylor Popielarz: And then another problem Michigan is facing, as well as Indiana, is the plague of meth and opioids and drugs. According to the CDC, Michigan saw a 13 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in 2013 and 2014, and Indiana saw a 9.6 percent increase. So, as president, what will you do to not only lower these statistics, but help put a dent in the number of people becoming addicted to these drugs?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Well, I got, let me just tell you, you think it’s a serious problem in Michigan and Indiana, it is a more serious problem in New Hampshire and Vermont. So we are very familiar with this problem. We’re familiar with people dying every day from drug overdoses. For a start, what we need to do is bring about a revolution in mental health. Drug addiction is not an easy illness to deal with, but we have to look at it as a health issue, not a criminal issue. And we gotta open the doors up to, in treatment facilities to those people who need it. And that is not the case right now. If you’re addicted to a drug and you want to get treatment, often you have to wait months. That is crazy. We gotta make sure that we have the facilities available right now. Number two, in terms of opiates. I think the pharmaceutical industry has gotta begin to understand they just cannot produce the types of medicine, drugs that they are doing, which are now falling into the hands of people, getting them hooked onto opiates and then going on to heroin. And thirdly, obviously, we need locally, we need doctors not to be over prescribing this medicine as well.

Taylor Popielarz: Gotcha. Our station that we’re from is based in South Bend, Indiana, so we cover Indiana and Michigan, and guns in Indiana are a hot topic. And as President Obama said in his January town hall, he blamed 30 to 40 percent of the guns in Chicago as coming from Indiana. So, you’re from a rural state, in terms of gun control, do you think there has to be a divide between how guns are controlled in rural areas compared to cities? And what would that be?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: I think we have a national issue and I think what we have got to do is everything possible. Nobody thinks there’s a magical solution, but we have got to do everything that we possibly can to end these mass killings, where somebody walks in and just starts shooting people. I believe that what we need to do is aggressively expand and improve the instant background check. At the end of the day, what we want to see is that no person in this country gets a gun who should not have a gun – and that means people with criminal backgrounds, that means people who are mentally unstable. And that means significantly expanding and improving the instant background check, it means dealing with the strong-man situation where people are now buying guns legally and then selling it to criminals, it means dealing with the gun show loophole where people are avoided the instant background checks. So there’s a lot that has to be done. In my state, we have a majority of the people who own guns, they hunt, they do target practice, and that’s great! But they agree, the vast majority of the American people agree, that sensible gun safety legislation is imperative to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.

Taylor Popielarz: I’d like to switch over to your tax plan. Yesterday, the Tax Policy Center released a very long analysis of your tax proposals, and according to them, your proposals add up to $15.3 trillion in tax increases over the first decade. And they said, “All income groups would pay some additional tax, but most would come from high-income households, particularly those with the very highest income.” So how do you convince people of all income levels that paying that much more in taxes will benefit them and…

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Well, first of all, in the last 30 years, we’ve had a massive transfer of wealth in this country, and today, we are experiencing grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality. When the top 20 wealthiest people in this country now own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent, when the middle class has shrunk and the people on top are doing phenomenally well, yes, I do think it’s appropriate to ask the very richest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. Large, profitable corporations, who in some cases pay zero in federal income taxes, yep, they should start paying their fair share of taxes, so that we can begin to deal with the crisis in Flint, the crisis of education in Detroit and communities all over this country.

[Staff member: Can we do one more? Bernie: Yeah. Taylor: Yeah, sure.]

Taylor Popielarz: So, you’re from a small New England state, predominately white, less than 700,000 people. You’ve been traveling across the entire country throughout the past few months. What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned about this country since you launched your campaign?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: [Laughs] That would take many hours to answer! It is a great country with wonderful, wonderful people. Every place we go, we meet with different people from different backgrounds, we’ve met with a lot of Native American tribal leaders, we’ve met with the African American community, we’ve met with the Latino community, we’ve met with the veterans community. We meet with extraordinary people almost every single day. And, what I have concluded, is that the vision of Donald Trump, trying to divide this country, telling us that we’ve got to hate Latinos or hate Muslims, is not where the American people want to go. Our goal is to bring our people together, to create the kind of country that most people know that we can create. And that means no more poisoning of children in Flint, it means good education in Detroit and in communities all over this country. When we are the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we can do that. The billionaire class in this country cannot have it all. We need a government that represents all of us, not just a handful of people on the top.

Taylor Popielarz: I know you’re in a rush. One more quick follow up question about your tax plan. That analysis from Tax Policy Center said anyone making between $23,000 and $45,000 would pay an additional $1,600 in taxes…

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Well, we don’t agree with that analysis and what that analysis does not include is that everybody in this country would have healthcare as a right, and the middle class family would see a $5,000 reduction in their healthcare costs. So will some people be paying somewhat more, maybe $500 a year more in taxes, yes. But then they’re going to have savings of up to $5,000 in their healthcare costs. That was not part of that analysis.

Taylor Popielarz: Senator Sanders, thank you very much.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Thank you very much.

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